The question this week is from Charlotte in Liverpool, UK, who asks, “Is work-life balance actually possible in top jobs?”
These days, I get this question quite a lot from executives, but to be honest, anyone who’s double income, with a mortgage, trying to run a household, kids at school, it’s incredibly busy. So how do you get work-life balance in that scenario?
Understanding your measure of work-life balance
The first mistake a lot of people make around life balance is they haven’t actually understood how they measure it and what it means for them. So they’re actually not really aware of what it is. They think it’s a bit of this and a bit of that, but actually it’s more detailed.
For example, they haven’t based their measure on their values and where they are in their life. I got asked this question once in a live coaching class. I told everybody to get out a pen and paper and write down all the things that they thought are important for work-life balance during an average week of 168 hours. Some people wrote things like sleep, gym, going to work, spending time with family, spending time with friends.
Next I asked them to write down all the things that they have to do every week. Things like grooming, eating breakfast, looking after the kids for a certain number of hours a day, the washing and ironing etc. Against these tasks, I got them to write down how many hours a week they needed for these things.
Then we looked specifically at sleep. How many hours are they in bed every night? It might be half an hour of reading and seven and a half hours of sleep. Next we looked at gym time or other exercise such as walking or yoga.
And finally, we looked at how many hours they needed for other things that are important such as friends, family, and a bit of time for relaxation, whatever that was for them.
The results? Not a single person in the room had anything near 168 hours. Every single one of them had a work-life balance equation that was impossible to fulfil and as such, they were never going to be happy from a life balance perspective.
Have a mindset of different chapters
First and foremost, one of the main reasons for this imbalance was that they weren’t considering the chapter of the life they were in. Right now, my wife and I are in a tricky chapter. Our youngest daughter is giving us all sorts of issues with sleep. Some nights she gets up in the middle of the night, and we lose an hour of sleep. Sometimes she gets up at four o’clock and it just wipes us out. I’m sure a lot of you have been there. What that means is that if we kept a normal (ie. pre-children) life balance and energy success metrics in our heads, there is no way we could be successful.
We have to be kind to ourselves depending on where we are in life. There are chapters in life where you just need to hunker down and a bunch of other things have to just drop off the radar. For example, we’ve just had to cut back on the gym a bit, so a couple of sessions a week is all we can fit in right now. It is what it is. I just really encourage you to think about that because if you apply too much pressure to the chapter of life you’re in, you will never, ever be happy regardless of how good your life is.
Furthermore, if you measure life balance over the term of seven days, you’re going to make it really difficult on yourself because some weeks are family-heavy, and some weeks are work-heavy. So if you move your measurements to cover a month, it will often balance out.
Some tools to get started
So how do you actually do this properly? My advice is to start off by working out what your values are and preparing your life scoreboard and your life vision. If you want to do the exercise on obtaining your hierarchy of values, just send me an email at email@example.com and I’ll send a template to you.
Then ask yourself based on these things and the chapter for where you are currently, what would be a reasonable set of things to do in order to have life balance? You have to put in how many hours a day you’re going to work, see family and friends, and all the big blocks that are values-centred and are critical on your life scoreboard.
Once you’ve got those key items in place, see what’s left on your list. You might be able to squeeze some of them in, even if they only happen once a month, while other things that aren’t a priority at all, you might have to say that they just don’t fit right now during this year or chapter.
A few years ago my wife got me a kite surfing lesson and it was great. I loved it and I really wanted to do a lot more of it. She actually asked me if I wanted to try and take it up as a hobby, but I just couldn’t see how I could fit that in within our busy lives. Me going to the beach for three hours at a time every week on my own while she got left with three kids under six, I couldn’t let that happen. I’d feel guilty while I’m there and I wouldn’t enjoy it. It simply wasn’t important enough to me, and going once every blue moon wasn’t going to cut it either. So we left it for the time being and maybe in three or four years time, I’ll be able to take it up properly.
In the top jobs, work is a part of life because often you’re checking your emails or on the phone or responding to a message quickly. While I encourage you to minimise that, it’s simply not possible all the time in the executive chairs. However, the most important thing for those people is that they are able to switch off and have a little routine, tradition or a mantra that shifts them into the different parts of their life, and they can invest high quality time in those pursuits.
I remember speaking to one of our former guests, Mike Pratt, who was the CEO of major banks, and the secretary of the Treasury for New South Wales. Every Friday night, he would do something with his family. He wouldn’t miss it and wouldn’t let anything get in the way of it. My family and I are the same with Friday night pizzas. I love being there and I look forward to it
We have a course on the Chief Maker Academy called Game Plan. It contains lessons on how to build a career and life game plan and goes through all of the above and more. It will absolutely help you to build a really good, congruent values and purpose-based career, and help you structure the way you think about your life.